For the last couple of days, we've been hearing about a terrible outbreak of an unusual strain of E. coli bacteria – centered in Germany – which has led to 16 deaths and hundreds of hospitalizations – many for kidney failure.
The Shiga toxin-producing E. coli 0104, or STEC 0104, causes severe symptoms ranging from bloody diarrhea to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which attacks the kidneys.
According to the Robert Koch Institute, 1,064 cases have been reported in Germany since the beginning of May. Cases of STEC 0104 have been reported in nine European countries: Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.K. Nearly all have been in people who spent time in Germany during the outbreak.
As of now, no confirmed cases of STEC 0104 have been reported in U.S. citizens who recently traveled to Europe, but two cases of HUS were reported in Americans who recently returned from the northern German city of Hamburg.
An official with the CDC told FoxNews.com that they are still awaiting lab results to determine if these cases are related to the outbreak.
Even though the source of the E. coli has not yet been identified, officials believe it may have been spread on agricultural products that were contaminated sometime during the transport from farm to grocery store.
This latest outbreak in Germany should be a warning sign to Americans to remind us of the dangers E. coli poses in the food supply.
As Dr. Philip Tierno, aka “Dr. Germ,” told Fox News Health, just because the E. coli strain in Europe seems to be particularly vicious, it doesn’t make it any more lethal than the strain we commonly see here in America called E. coli 0157:H7.
He simply put it like this: “It can kill you just as effectively.”
After all, ‘tis the season’ where we tend to see more of these cases cropping up. Everyone needs to be alert – from consumers, to federal inspectors and health officials.
At the consumer level, you have to be aware that contamination is a real possibility. You cannot just assume that your food is safe. It is important to wash all fruits and vegetables properly. Also, whenever you have a barbecue, cooking meat at the right temperatures is extremely important to avoid getting sick.
For federal inspectors, I urge you to continue to monitor farms and packing procedures in order to minimize the possibility of contamination. We don't want a repeat of last year, where we saw thousands of products recalled due to the threat of E. coli.
And to health care professionals, it is not only important to recognize the signs and symptoms of E. coli, which include non-lethal stomach ailments as well as kidney problems, strokes and comas, but also to be sure to report any cases of E. coli to government health authorities so they can implement proper tracking procedures.
As I like to say, globalization is a hell of a thing.
Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.